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JOHNSON v. JUNG

May 4, 2005.

MERDELIN V. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ALEXANDRA JUNG and GENERAL BOARD OF PENSION AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, Defendants. MERDELIN V. JOHNSON, Plaintiff, v. GENERAL BOARD OF PENSION AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE METHODIST CHURCH, JIMMY JACKSON, DEBBIE REID, GERTRUDE LIVERNOUS, and HELEN EXARHAKOS, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BLANCHE MANNING, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

These consolidated employment discrimination cases were recently transferred to this court from Judge Lefkow's docket. Three motions are fully briefed and pending: (1) Ms. Johnson's objections to Judge Denlow's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") regarding General Board's motion in No. 02 5221 to enforce the parties' alleged settlement agreement; (2) General Board's motion in No. 04 C 6158 to dismiss the claims against it; and (3) Jimmy Jackson, Debbie Reid, Gertrude Livernois, and Helen Exarhakos' motion in No. 04 C 6158 to dismiss the claims against them. For the following reasons, the parties' settlement agreement in No. 02 5221 will be enforced. As the settlement agreement also covers the claims raised by Ms. Johnson in No. 04 C 6158, this means that the defendants' motions to dismiss filed in that case must also be granted.

Background

  The court begins with the observation that Ms. Johnson has previously been represented by five different appointed attorneys and is presently proceeding pro se. Thus, the court will thus construe her filings liberally. The court also notes that it has independently considered whether appointment of counsel would affect the result in this case. Because it concludes that it would not, the court will turn to a summary of the relevant facts.

  Judge Denlow recommended that the court grant General Board's motion to enforce the settlement agreement allegedly reached in No. 02 5221. For a full recitation of the events leading up to the alleged settlement, the court incorporates the detailed summary of the facts from the R&R. In short, Judge Denlow conducted four settlement conferences. Ms. Johnson was represented by counsel during all of these conferences.

  On June 2, 2003, the parties attempted to settle the case. No agreement was reached and the case was returned to Judge Lefkow for further proceedings.

  In June of 2004, Judge Lefkow referred the case for a second settlement conference. The following month, after an extensive negotiations, the parties were close to reaching a monetary agreement. With the concurrence of the parties, Judge Denlow made a settlement recommendation as to the financial terms and gave the parties until August 2, 2004, to advise the court whether they would accept the recommendation.

  Before the parties left the settlement conference, Judge Denlow asked the parties to complete his Settlement Checklist/Term Sheet to ensure that all of the other settlement terms would be agreed upon in the event that the parties accepted the court's monetary recommendation. The Settlement Checklist/Term Sheet is a three page worksheet which lists questions that commonly arise when settlement agreements are finalized. The topics reviewed included items related to the treatment of any monetary terms, forms of release, confidentiality, enforcement mechanisms, disposition of the litigation, documentation of the agreement, the effective date, and other terms. The Settlement Checklist/Term Sheet completed on this day indicated that there would be "[n]o binding agreement until the settlement agreement is fully documented and signed." The parties did not sign the Settlement Checklist/Term Sheet because they had agreed on most, but not all non-monetary terms of the settlement agreement. Therefore, as of July 21, 2004, there was no agreement on either the monetary or non-monetary terms.

  Judge Denlow gave the parties eleven days to consider his monetary recommendation. On August 2, 2004, the defendants accepted the settlement recommendation. The same day, Ms. Johnson sent a letter to Judge Denlow accepting the settlement proposal "provided the Defendants agree to make the release mutual by including appropriate language releasing any and all potential claims against Ms. Johnson." The release agreement on the Settlement Checklist/Term Sheet indicated a one way release from Plaintiff to Defendants. Therefore, as of August 2, 2004, there was an agreement between the parties regarding Judge Denlow's monetary recommendation, but there was still no agreement on all of the non-monetary terms.

  On August 6, 2004, defendants sent Ms. Johnson a revised settlement agreement incorporating the mutual release language that Ms. Johnson had requested. They gave Ms. Johnson until August 31, 2004, to accept the agreement. On August 30, 2004, Ms. Johnson sent defendants a revised version of the release agreement that contained numerous changes to various provisions in the agreement.

  On August 30, 2004, Ms. Johnson sent Judge Denlow a letter delineating the paragraphs of the proposed settlement agreement that were still in dispute. The following day, Judge Denlow held a third settlement conference to finalize the language in the settlement agreement. During the conference, the defendants agreed to all of Ms. Johnson's changes that were listed in her August 30th letter and handwrote these changes on the settlement agreement. The parties then initialed all pages of the revised settlement with the exception of page one, which contained a provision regarding the treatment of the settlement proceeds. This page was left unsigned in order to finalize the tax treatment of the settlement as Ms. Johnson was unsure whether she wanted the settlement amount to be issued with taxes withheld or not. Defendants repeatedly assured Ms. Johnson that they were amenable to whichever tax treatment Ms. Johnson desired.

  During the settlement conference on August 31st, Ms. Johnson never asked to increase the previously agreed upon settlement amount. The only open issue related to whether taxes would be withheld, and the defendants had agreed to leave this matter up to Ms. Johnson and proceed however she wanted with respect to this issue. Therefore, as of August 31st, all of the disputed terms had been worked out, as reflected in the initialed agreement.

  Later on August 31st, the defendants sent a revised version of the settlement agreement to Ms. Johnson's counsel for her signature. The revised agreement incorporated all of the handwritten changes that were agreed to by the parties earlier that day. Therefore as of August 31, 2004, a meeting of the minds was reached on all issues relating to the settlement, since the defendants had agreed to accede to however Ms. Johnson wanted to proceed with respect to taxes.

  On September 10, 2004, Ms. Johnson's counsel advised defendants' counsel that Ms. Johnson had refused to sign the revised version of the settlement agreement. Ms. Johnson's counsel informed defendants' counsel that Ms. Johnson might be willing to sign the settlement agreement if the monetary terms of the settlement were more than doubled, ...


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